NEW PRAGUE – There are 14 players on the roster for the Delano volleyball team. Some played the entire match, some played a little, and some didn’t see the floor. The Tigers needed all 14 players though as they came together as a team and put together their best performance of the season in a thrilling 3-2 (25-16, 23-25, 27-25, 14-25, 15-8) comeback win over top-seeded New Prague in the Section 6AAA semifinals Friday night.
“It was a crazy fight,” Delano coach Becca Rue said. “It was definitely a team effort. It was just unreal. We needed everybody out there. Tonight, I thought they all brought it. We have the best bench around. They are definitely the seventh player giving us energy out there. I love these girls. They work so hard in practice. It takes everybody. Everybody accepts their role and they want to do what’s best for the team. They want it for each other and not for themselves.”
Delano set the tone early on that they wouldn’t be an easy out. A convincing 25-16 win in the opening set gave them a 1-0 lead, but the match was just getting started. New Prague would rally in set two for a 25-23 win to tie things up only to see Delano come through with big play after big play late in set three for a 27-25 victory.
“We just had so much energy going into it,” Tool said. “That was it. We just put it all out there and brought our best. Everyone is so capable of doing so much. When we can use everyone, it makes things so much tougher for the other team when they don’t know who we’re going to go to.”
Up 2-1 and looking to wrap things up, the Trojans showed why they were the No. 1 seed in the fourth set An 8-0 early followed by a 6-0 run late kept the season alive for New Prague in convincing fashion. After dominating the fourth set, the Trojans kept that momentum rolling in the decisive fifth set jumping out to a 7-3 lead. As bad as things looked for Delano, they never let up.
“In the set before, we were down a ton,” Taylor Tool said. “We just said we need to get some momentum going. That last set started a little rough but we stayed with it. We just believed in ourselves and it worked out.”
After the Tiger rallied to tie the set at seven, Tool took over the match and gave her team a spark. After back-to-back kills followed by a block, Delano all of a sudden had a 12-7 lead and was looking to pull off the upset. The Tigers would finish the set on a 12-1 run, completing the upset in thrilling fashion on the road.
“What I love about this team is that they never give up,” Rue said. “Even in that fifth set, we were down big. We never lost our composure. They just believed. That’s huge in a game like this. Mental toughness is just a piece to success.”
“We’re almost kind of known for starting off slow but we find ways to crawl back into things and find ways to win,” senior libero Ashlynn Kley said. “We had to get everyone involved tonight to get this going. I’m so proud of everyone on our team because we played our hearts out. We played as a team. We knew we were going to play hard and have fun and leave absolutely everything out there. This could have been our last game tonight so we tried to play as hard as possible.”
Delano came into the matchup with a chip on their shoulder. The Trojans were responsible for ending their season last year in the semifinals but this year they knew it would be different.
“We wanted to flip the script a little bit,” Kley said with a smile. “This is where things ended last year for us. This win just feels amazing.”
“New Prague was that one team that we wanted because of last year’s result,” Corbyn Menz said. “This year was just redemption for us. This is the best team I’ve played on in my four years here. I’m so proud of the girls and it was everything we wanted. We still have more to give.”
The combination of talent and chemistry has the Tigers one win away from the state tournament. All season long they’ve been a tight-knit group and they’ve only gotten closer as they’ve been making their postseason push.
“These underclassmen are just special. They are the most supportive group of girls and that makes our team better. Our energy has doubled from what we had last year. We’re a family. We love each other and give each other everything we’ve got.”
Delano will take on second-seeded Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the Section 6AAA championship game Thursday, Nov. 3 at Waconia High School. One more win for the Tigers would have them back at the state tournament for the first time since 2013 when they finished as runner-ups in Class AAA.
“This has been my dream,” Kley said about playing for a section title. “I’m happy we’re going to be there but I’m not satisfied with just getting there. After playing how we did tonight, I think we can give them a run for their money. We want to make it to state.”